Radio

Kid Kelly Opens Up: Former SiriusXM Pop Guru on Why He Lost His Job and the 'Very Bad' State of Radio

Kid Kelly
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Radio Hall of Fame

Kid Kelly attends Radio Hall Of Fame 2018 Induction Ceremony at Guastavino's on Nov. 15, 2018 in New York City.

After losing his 18-year SiriusXM job as vice president of pop programming, Kid Kelly has spent the last two weeks "chillaxing" and binge-watching Curb Your Enthusiasm at his home in Florida.   

Kelly, who has worked at 30 radio stations, engineered the satellite-radio giant's influential pop format: "The Hits 1 build I envisioned reapplied the (then crazy) theory of playing the most passionate music of ALL genres, besides the typical ones played on external Top 40/CHR stations at that time," he wrote in an open letter this week. "I'd add select Country, Alt-Rock, Active Rock, Teen-Punk and Euro-Pop, most of which were not then playing on FM Top 40 and also not yet available or coalescing on DSP Pop Playlists... It disrupted most major Top 40 stations that ignored or swore off this mix."   

Returning a call, he referred to me as "big dog" and "killer pimp" and mocked the "Dr. Evil chair" I used in a roundtable interview last summer. Then he agreed to a half-hour Q&A.

How have the last two weeks been for you?  

I went from 1,000 miles an hour to two miles an hour.  

How much do you miss 1,000 miles an hour?

It's kind of like this -- the place [SiriusXM headquarters in New York] was an amazing area of the world, where Times Square and Rock Center met. Just getting there was exciting enough, going the eight miles and not knowing how long it would take. It could take three hours, it could take 20 minutes. It's too soon to tell you how it feels. Right now, it feels like a vacation. Another month or three, maybe you want to call back, I'll let you know then.

Have you ever had this much time off?

This is the longest stretch that I've had. This is coming up -- what's the day, Wednesday? -- this has been 14 days. I've never been out two weeks, ever.

Can you say why you lost your job?

The reason is, 'Hey, it's radio.' It's a cruel, cruel world out there, my dad once said. It's not my transmitter, so to speak. I have nothing negative to say about a company that I willingly went to for over 17 years and ran as if I owned it.

Was it the right time to leave?

I'm not sure how much more I could've done there. As companies continue to gel, coalesce, they become more and more -- what's the word I'm looking for -- structured. Listen, I understand structure, but I don't know that I'm a structure guy. I consider myself somebody who is a potential fixer or a potential builder, not a meeting/maintenance person. I need to be told that "you can't do it" or "it won't be done" or "it's never been done." I like those odds. They inspire me to be creative and to stand out. After 18 years, there's probably going to be more structure, which is understood, it's a big publicly traded company that is cash-flowing billions of dollars. It's the right thing for everybody, at this point. I guess.

Give me an example of how you changed the Top 40 format in your work with Hits 1 at SiriusXM.

I said, "I need a fresh crop [of hits], and I need it a lot faster than FM was doing it. At the end of the year, I'm not going to play songs that aren't hits for six or seven weeks when everybody goes on vacation." I was like, "I've got to give people something worth paying for." Whatever tools [SiriusXM] were using to market -- whether it be the world's biggest gorilla, Howard Stern, or sports franchises -- I wanted to better than those things. I wanted to be outstanding. That was another mindset.

Have you started thinking about your next step?

Not even close! My next step is to do a lot of thinking, a lot of listening, then a lot of thinking about the listening. In that order, actually. ... Please put this in bold and caps and exclamation points: Send money now! 

Your departure came not long after iHeartMedia laid off hundreds of DJs, programmers and others. What do these events say about the state of radio?

The state of radio, in my opinion, it's very, very bad. Radio companies, or radio stations, need to have respect for the audience. If program directors are forced to play songs that they're uncomfortable with, or know they're not going to work, or there are group ads crammed down, or there are 20-minute blocks of commercials, the audience doesn't want that. Maybe somebody has to walk away and take a loss… Do you understand that nobody's ever going to listen to your station again, under a certain age, because of that? It really needs to be fixed, or else it's going to be a vast, vast wasteland.

Looking back at your time at SiriusXM, would you have done anything differently?

Not one thing. Not one effing thing. I could've perhaps fought for a bigger budget. Just kidding. No, I have zero regrets.